Brighten The Corner—Terry Moore
When I was still a child I learned that I wanted a warm life much more than a great one. I learned from experience and I learned from.my church—the Mormon Church. It was (and is) an important lesson because I am a normally ambitious girl and perhaps my ambition, if not balanced by the nonprofessional side of my nature, could lead me to high but lonely places.
I know that as an actress I have made some kind of mark in motion pictures, but the movies must never be my all. I stint nothing when I work in them, but I work in them, and I don’t live in them. My deepest interests are intertwined with the lives of those. who know me for what I am out of the studio, not in it. From what you have read about me you may have formed a different opinion. But even young actresses have hearts, can be hurt, and want to be liked and loved for their true selves as well as for their film selves.
This is my feeling, and I have said that I have learned from experience and from my church. I was once asked if I didn’t think I would be the same person even if I never had been close to my church. I had to reply that this could not be. It is true that I was born with my instincts and perhaps inherited a disposition to lean toward this or that view of life, but the mainstream of my thinking has come from my religion, and from this was shaped my character. The very words which come to my lips when I am confronted with a personal problem are words I have grown up with, words, as a matter of fact, which were familiar sounds before I was old enough to know their meaning.
I was a year old when prayers were first said over me. I had lobar pneumonia and an elder of the church came to minister to me when my condition went into a crisis. The story was told often in the family because in that same room in the Glendale Physicians and Surgeons Hospital there was a boy who also had pneumonia, but who was believed to be not so seriously ill and for whom no one prayed. He died and I survived. It was the kind of dramatic story that will stick in a child’s mind, but beyond that, it established an unforgettable affinity between myself and the power of prayer.
It is not that I give proof that the prayer saved me, or that lack of prayer doomed the boy. One of the most powerful stories of prayer that I know concerns a twenty-six-year-old elder of our church whose sister had an incurable disease and found suddenly that he could not ask God to save her when he prayed. “I tried to say it, but the words wouldn’t permit themselves to be spoken,” he told us afterward. Instead he asked merely that her pain be relieved. And it came to me that the importance of prayer is not to be judged by a sort of box score of its results. One prays not for automatic blessing, but to be in communion—that is to say in harmony—with the spiritual. What warmer, greater satisfaction than this?
As for those things life has taught me, it didn’t require major catastrophies to make an impression—small events did it very well. For instance, I got an odd lesson on the sin of selfishness when I was not yet ten, after I cheated my young brother out of a ride on a hay wagon during a farm vacation in Idaho. This was no great crime and I bear no cruel scar. But just the same, it led to some good thinking and to conclusions which are not forgotten.
There was only one place left to sit on the wagon. I plopped myself down before my brother, Wallie, could make a move, and as we pulled away I laughed at the disappointment in his face. Yet I, who laughed and won this small victory, have thought about this stolen hayride a hundred times since, and never without a pang of shame; while my brother Wallie, who was disappointed and cried about it then, has never even been able to remember the incident! There must be something about illicitness that glues it to the mind. And that something can’t be very good for one! The day I beat Wallie out for the ride I made a bad bargain, and ever since I have always been wary of making any quick profits in my relationships with other people.
I learned something, too, the very first time “fame” ever interfered with my life. I was only twelve years old when I was signed for my first movie, Maryland, starring Brenda Joyce, John Payne and Walter Brennan. And I darn near lost every girl friend I had in the school as a result of it!
You know how girls in their earliest teens develop a sort of mass taste; how they will all like the same thing at the same time—a new crooner, a fashion fad, a saying? And, of course, it is important for a girl to feel she is part of the group (individuality comes later!). I can remember that we used to fall for the same boy together, and switch from him to a new one all at the same time and chatter the Same reasons. So you can imagine my feelings when, one fine day, I found myself gradually being shunted to the outer circles of the gang and then being ignored by all.
I don’t know whether I had bragged about being an actress, but I did trace the whole thing to my work in the picture. I was resented, and so bitterly that when it developed that the studio was not going to use my scenes in the picture, but scatter all my wonderful talent over the cutting-room floor, not a smidgin of sympathy did I get. In fact, when the news got around, the comments were equipped with claws:
“She lied, I bet. She never was in the picture.”
“She was so bad in it they had to cut her out.”
“They previewed the picture and found out the audiences couldn’t stand her!”
And having hurt me thus, the girls didn’t stop there, but went further—they refused to vote for a part for me in the class play, Alice In Wonderland. I, who always felt that I even looked like Alice; I, who had already acted on the radio and, yes, even in movies (though my part was left out) was not to be in the cast at all. I started out wanting to be Alice, and from this I slipped down the scale of roles until I was willing to play anything. But all parts were allotted by class vote and they allotted me nothing! I went home crying.
When I reported to mother I probably had the thought of doing something against the girls in retaliation. But the first thing mother did was to lead me into a discussion of our church’s interpretation of the Bible in a search for observations and findings which would apply to my case. Examining the lives, the experiences and wisdom of the saints soothed me and lent me a strengthening courage.
“Disappointment and heartbreak make character,” mother pointed out. By this time she didn’t have to urge against any words or action of spite on my part in school. It was clear that I would thus be indulging my worst side and wasting a wonderful opportunity to improve myself. “If you follow the line of least resistance,” as our church elders tell us, “you become as crooked as the river which does the same.”
I went back to my class in a mood of humility, yet I had strength, too. I didn’t feel that my future in the movies was over because I had been cut out of my first picture. And J didn’t feel that my school days were to be forever friendless. I can best describe my attitude by saying that I looked as if I were at peace with myself—and I was! It’s something you can’t fake and you must get the strength and inspiration for it from spiritual sources.
I can tell you that it had a magic effect. It not only dispelled the girls’ dislike for me but seemed to engender in them an eagerness to show their good sides to me. It worked so well that when the teacher assigned me to do a between-the-acts recitation at the Alice In Wonderland play (with my brother Wallie assisting) the girls still remained friendly although we turned out to be a genuine hit.
I have always believed I would be a success. And I still do. But I mean as a person, not as an actress. To succeed professionally is fine, but to have real friends, to be well-rounded and to be liked best by those who know you best is to me the difference between really living and just pretending you are living! I pray I’ll never change.
We say in our church: “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.”
I have studied this a thousand times, and it always has clear meaning—if I break God’s law it will break me. God’s law runs not only through the books and sayings of the church, but through my whole life. It is remarkable how much comfort I get out of knowing this. When I am criticized on false charges—and I have been!—I don’t fall to pieces or go around proclaiming my innocence. I don’t have to do that to keep my peace of mind, my self-respect. Knowing that my salvation depends on me, I make sure always that my prime relationship—between my God and myself—is a close and understanding one. If I succeed here I cannot fail elsewhere!
I know perfectly well that some who profess to be friends are not truly friends; but this does not mean that friendship must die. I have been taught not to let another’s mistake become mine. If they are mistaken in not liking me I must not make the same mistake and dislike them! To my belief the time of hell is when you look back on your life and see the better person you could have been.
Perhaps I give the impression that because I have a set of rules to live by I am perfect. It’s not so, of course. I err, sometimes knowingly, sometimes unconsciously, but less and less as my relationship to my faith strengthens with the passing of the years. When I know, as my church tells me, that there are no successful sinners in this world, there is little likelihood that I will sin. When I know that there is only one worthwhile victory in every person’s life—to enter eternal life—it isn’t so hard to give up all the small victories that can be had by overlooking one’s principles. When, by living my religion instead of just sporting it as a label, I get an immense inner satisfaction, I know I am on the right path—and for me there is no other path.
I suppose that to many people I don’t sound at all like the person they have thought me to be. That’s only because no one ever asked me before about my faith; I mean as a subject to write about. But many of my friends (most of them, as a matter of fact) have put questions to me about it in conversations. You know, if you are a singer and you sing well, people interested in singing will ask you who your teacher is. For the same reason, if you seem to be a happy person people who are interested in happiness—and who isn’t?—will often probe about trying to know what your secret is. They are a little unbelieving sometimes when I tell them it is my church, but almost always they have become convinced if we have talked on.
I remember an Army sergeant in Korea asking me about this, and with his questions there began a conversation which lasted for hours, practically, and then had to be carried on by mail after I got back home. And almost every boy I have gone with has not only attended my church in Westwood, but a number of them have become members of the congregation. I know because I never miss a Sunday when I am in Hollywood, and I see them there.
You might be surprised to know what sort of subjects come up for talk at movie parties. I can tell you, for instance, of a Saturday night when we gathered early and went on until five o’clock the next morning, at which time the whole crowd—which included Jane Russell, Rhonda Fleming, David Brian, Connie Haines, Peter Potter and David Street—drifted over to my house to finish the discussion. What were we so deeply engrossed in? Answer: the origin and significance of baptism! If you don’t think it is absorbing, read about it in the Bible.
I don’t suppose anything is as interesting to us as the spiritual side of our existence, provided we take the time to think and talk our way deeply enough into the subject. And it’s worth taking the time. In fact, not to do so is perhaps to miss knowing ourselves as we really are! A famous English astronomer, the late Sir Arthur Eddington, once said that the only actual difference between men and beasts could never be measured by any material means. Both were animals and in many ways remarkably similar. But there is this distinction which man enjoys alone—man is he who asks the question.
Who am I? What am I? Where am I? Where will I be? I have asked. And I have been answered.
—BY TERRY MOORE
(Terry Moore is appearing in 20th Century-Fox’s Daddy Long Legs)
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE MAY 1955